Friday, December 3, 2010

Obama in Israel?

Today marked the 1st day at the new day care center. This one, owned and run by a woman from Ghana, is located in the Southern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikva. I’m familiar with the area because there is also an open-air market there I frequent to buy cheap fruits and veggies. This center is way smaller and with less children. I’d say there are somewhere between 10-20 kids in the day care center at a time. I feel like the change may be a good thing after all seeing as we’ll be able to get to know the kids on a more personal and intimate level.

I love meeting all of them and figuring out their unique personalities. There is always the tough guy who is too cool to come over and see what you’re all about. There’s the quiet, shy one who likes to watch from afar until he feels comfortable enough to play with everyone else. The content one who never cries even if someone steals his toy from him. And then of course the attention hog. Sometimes there may be more than one toddler that wants to put on a show, but in this center, there is no mistaking who that 1 child is, even after the 1st two hours of being there. Originally from a francophone African country (yes, I was extremely excited to find this out after he repeated “Bravo!” each time he threw the “ballon” and yelled “Dora”—referring to the 1 and only Explorer—with a guttural “r”), this little boy couldn’t be older than 3 years old. I usually have no idea the ages of the kids, but something gives it away: His name is Obama. Straight up, first name. I asked the woman what everyone’s names are and when she got to him, we couldn’t help but laugh. But don’t worry, Obama loved it and was jumping up and down. The whole time Julie and I were there playing with the kids, he was constantly climbing all over us and loving the attention. I can’t tell you how many times we yelled his name. Talk about pressure though growing up with a name like that. I’ll really try to get some pictures before my time is up at this place; seriously some of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen.

One of my English students at the ARDC, David (his real name is Abdallah, but there are 2 in the class so he said to call him “David” although I’m not sure where the nickname comes from because it probably took him about 2 weeks to respond to it) from Darfur, walks home with me after class every Wednesday because we live very close to each other. Last week he asked if there was any way we could organize some sort of informal English discussions because he is really interested in improving his English. I definitely have experience in running French Tables, but I realized it would be a bit more difficult to start an English Circle when the students and other people interested in attending aren’t always in the same place. Nevertheless, I decided to put something small together for this past weekend. Another student, Ezu also from Darfur and only 25 years old, opened his own restaurant in Southern Tel Aviv last week! He has such an amazing and inspiring story saying that he had to work 2 jobs for over a year having come from a broken family due to the war in his home country. I sent out an email to everyone in my program inviting them to come and try Sudanese food and to meet some great men from Darfur in hopes of practicing English with them.

9 of my friends showed up, including participants from both the Tel Aviv and the Yafo tracks. Love you guys! Only 4 of my students ended up coming, but still, even then I was impressed with the turn out. Ezu led the way from the ARDC office, where we met, to his newly opened restaurant on the street Neve Sha’anan, directly across from the New Central Bus Station. A mixed race, nationality, religious group of 14 sat down in the Sudanese restaurant. I was blown away by the plasma screens hanging in the large dining room, the friendly kitchen staff I went over to exchange some words in Hebrew too—all Africans by the way—and the food. The food was SO DELICIOUS. I don’t think I can really tell you what Sudanese food is, but I do know that we ate a lot of beef, including beef liver, rice, beans, vegetables, and really, really scrumptious dessert. In a bowl we mixed cooked barley, halva, raisins, bananas, and drizzled some rose petal syrup on top. Perfection. The whole time, Ezu was handing out bottled and canned drinks, fresh squeezed orange juice, and pita for everyone. We kept trying to refuse, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. The 3 other students from Darfur were mixed among the Americans (and 1 Australian) and were constantly getting up to help Ezu bring out some more food and clear the table. I got my hands dirty too because I wanted the students to enjoy themselves as much as they could.
The group at Ezu's Restaurant

Ezu and Me
After more than 2 hours, we decided it was time to go and since I knew we weren’t going to be handed a check, we pulled together a total of 400 shekels to pay for the exquisite meal. Ezu literally refused to take the money. I tried many tactics: left it on the table, put it in his front pocket, hid it under a napkin. Well, he wasn’t having any of it. He took me aside when we were still in the restaurant and very sternly informed me we were not to pay. I’ve never seen him be more serious than that in the 2 months that I’ve been his teacher. I couldn’t believe it. This man literally opened his own restaurant 1 week earlier, which still didn’t have a name nor menus nor a full variation of foods, and he was not allowing a group of 14 people to pay for their meal. We were even chasing him around the street by the way, just to let you know how hard we tried. The evening ended up to be a great success and I’m really excited to continue to have these cultural events and definitely to go back to Ezu’s restaurant soon *Guests be warned: anyone who comes to visit me will be going for dinner there J

This past Sunday was the last day of English classes at the ARDC for this 2-month semester. Can’t believe my 1st class has graduated already! Unfortunately the office that the org. is renting is too big and we can’t afford the price anymore so we have to move buildings. We’re not sure where yet, but I think it will happen in January. Well this is bad news for the education dept. because the potential new office doesn’t have classrooms so we’re currently looking for places to hold the classes. Anyway, the next 2-month semester (Dec. & Jan.) had to be cancelled because of the move, but I am hoping to continue teaching my students with my co-teacher only once a week. I’m really happy with the relationship we’ve all created during the time we’ve spent in the classroom and it’s awesome to see their progression. I feel like a real teacher!
My students on the last day of class in the ARDC office
Left to Right: Yaacob, David, Me, Mohammed, Ezu
Front and Center: Abdallah

Chanukah, or The Festival of Lights, started this week and it’s the Holiday Season over here in the Middle East. Well, sortof. Chanukah isn’t that big of a deal considering it’s more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. Rather a miracle, if you will. A huge menorah appeared in front of the bank in our neighborhood at the beginning of the week and there are regular-sized menorahs everywhere around the city. The high school students have off this coming week for the holiday. It’s so cool that it’s the Chanukah break. A bunch of us got together on Wednesday night to light the candles together the 1st night of the holiday. We ate so many latkes and sufganiyot (donuts without holes that are traditionally eaten during Chanukah—I guess you’re supposed to eat a lot of foods cooked in oil—check!) and had a really good time singing songs. Yes, we sang the traditional American Chanukah songs; don’t be hatin’. One girl who lives in the other TLV apartment decided to be the one to light the candles because it was her 1st Chanukah experience ever. She comes from a Russian family who relocated to Philly (shout out to my peeps in Fishtown) right before she was born and has never known what it means to be Jewish until coming here on the program. It’s really interesting. Anyway, she took the middle candle and went to light the other one and while we were all singing the prayer together she started to blow out the middle candle. The crowd’s reaction was priceless. Seriously we all screamed “NOOOOO!!!!!!!” like it was the WORST thing she could have done. I mean what would have happened? We probably would have just lit it again. It was really funny though. Maybe you had to be there…

In terms of the weather, it’s still pretty hot. Apparently this is the hottest winter Israel has had in a really long time. Sara and I went to the beach today. I didn’t go in the water, but the sun felt great. At night it’s getting pretty cool, but let’s be real, it doesn’t get lower than 55 degrees. Although it feels freezing to us because we’re so used to the heat considering I’ve now had summer since the end of last May. It’s going to be brutal coming home in February.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it yet, but there are horrible fires going on in the north of Israel right now. They’re not sure how they started yet, but they are trying everything they can to get them under control. They are mostly in the Carmel region near Haifa. This is exactly where we went on our first overnight trip—we hiked on the Carmel Mountain—and then again when we visited the Druze village. Over 15,000 people have been evacuated from the region and I sincerely hope everyone will be OK.

Shalom V’Ahava
Peace & Love


  1. Kol HaKavod, Morah!

    It sounds like the teacher has fascinating students and the students have a caring, wonderful teacher. Keep up the great work. [Is it: "Much I learned from my parents, more from my teachers, but most from my students"? Pirke Avoth]

    Next: Photos of Mom riding the Sphinx!

    Uncle Mark

  2. Marissa you are growing before our eyes in your blogs - very proud DAD

  3. Sue, I have to get to Ezu's restaurant. Make a reservation, love, M